Work contracts in France are highly codified and almost always adversarial.
The French Code du travail stereotypes workers as children who need to be protected from any and every possible offense, and treats employers as though they’re scheming sleazeballs who are trying to suck every ounce of productivity out of workers without paying them fairly.
Unfortunately, in lots of cases, organizations perpetuate these stereotypes by adhering to them.
It’s not uncommon in France for simply trying to leave your job to turn into a lawsuit. And if your employer is doing illegal stuff, it’s often the easiest and best way to go.
As an employee, you have the right to file what’s called a prise d’acte de la rupture and end your work contract abruptly if your employer is doing sketchy stuff. If your lawsuit is held up in the courts – after about a year – you’ll retain your right to unemployment insurance (allocations chômage) and get a fairly large settlement from your employer, along with interest and damages. If the charges are justified, employees are vindicated in about 80% of cases.
Here are 10 things the courts have ruled that your employer can’t do legally:
1) Not give you a work contract.
You have the legal right to a work contract, including a translation in your native language, within 48 hours of being hired. Unless you receive one, your contract is assumed to be a contrat à durée déterminée (CDI) with no période d’essai (unless one is specified in the convention collective that applies to your position).
2) Not pay your salary.
English Assistants complain every year about submitting their paperwork on time at the beginning of their work contracts and then not getting paid at the end of October. That’s illegal.
While your employer can pay you a few days late with no consequences, not paying your salary is a big no-no.
3) Calculate and pay your overtime incorrectly.
In most jobs in France, overtime is paid at 125% for the first 4 hours, and 150% after that. Your convention collective will specify the formula that applies to your job, as some fields have more favorable overtime rules.
Under French law, you also have the right to comp time after you work a certain number of overtime hours during the year. If your employer fails to calculate these correctly, or pay you for them, it’s illegal.
4) Pay you under the table (even part of your pay).
Social charges are expensive in France – around 45% of your total cost to your employer. But that doesn’t mean he can get around them by paying you under the table, in whole or in part.
An employer who pays you in cash without declaring you isn’t only cheating the French government, he’s cheating you. If he’s only declaring some of your hours, that means that your overtime and comp time are not being awarded, the payments you make to unemployment insurance don’t reflect your entire salary (and result in reduced allocations chômage if you leave your job), and your vacation time isn’t properly accounted for, either.
Basically, it messes everything up.
Your employer isn’t going to give you a more advantageous pay package by cheating the government. He’s just going to save money and screw you.
The employee is always the victim of “travail au noir”, so if your employer pulls this, report it, and help yourself and anyone else who may work for that person or company in the future.
5) Not give you work to do (even if they keep paying you).
While some people would be thrilled at the idea of not having to actually work for their paycheck, it’s actually illegal in France for your employer to not give you work to do that’s consumate with your job description.
Even if the employee continues to be paid normally, the employer has to give him something to do.
6) Prevent you from coming to work and/or doing your job.
Whenever there’s a dispute between an employer and an employee, the employee is still legally obligated to go to work or risk being fired for abandoning his job.
In some cases, the employer will try to “force” you to abandon your job in order to fire you for doing so. In other words, they’ll forcibly prevent you from coming to the office and doing your job.
If your employer does this, the court considers that they’re firing you without giving you proper notice, and you can list that in your complaints against your employer.
7) Not respect doctor’s orders or provide medical visits.
Employer-employee relationships are almost feudal in France, and your employer is legally obligated to protect you from harm that may result from your job. This means that if you have a valid doctor’s note with written orders to avoid certain things, the company has to respect those orders or risk financial penalty.
Similarly, certain fields are required to provide periodic medical visits to ensure that you’re in good enough health to continue working in your field. (Think anything requiring physical labor, or chemicals). If your employer neglects to provide opportunities for the medical visit, they can be held liable.
8) Change your salary, job description, or work contract without your express consent.
In order to change your work contract, salary, or job duties, your employer must notify you in writing, and you must accept the changes. This includes switching your hours from a day job to a night job, or vice versa, increasing your pay, or decreasing your responsibilities.
If you DON’T accept the changes, then your employer must either keep your contract the same as it was, propose a contract you will accept, or give you notice – for an illegal firing.
9) Allow people to smoke in your workplace.
In 2008, France officially outlawed smoking indoors in public places, and of course, there were numerous protests.
Regardless of whether people in your office smoke, it’s illegal for your employer to allow them to do so inside, and the courts have ruled that a smokey environment justifies ending a work contract.
10) Prevent you from continuing your education using DIF (Droit individuel à la Formation).
Each employee earns the right to a certain number of hours of continuing education each month. The employer pays into a fund that goes towards this education, and employees can use those hours however they see fit (normally, it should be something related to your job).
If your employer prevents you from using those hours for reasonable endeavors, he’s breaking the law.